NAIAN GONZÁLEZ NORVIND – A Mexican Actress on the Rise
By Lilia Davis
NAIAN GONZÁLEZ NORVIND, is an award-winning Mexican actress on the rise in a relatively short time, in film theater and television. She is also a writer and producer, and has a legacy from a dynasty of actresses; a family dedicated to acting and music.This summer, she is premiering her most recent film in the United States, SOUTH MOUNTAIN, which has already received notably good reviews.
Naian received an award as Best Actress at the Guanajuato Film Festival with TODO EL MUNDO TIENE A ALGUIEN, MENOS YO (Everyone Has Someone But Me) an award with which she received a special scholarship to study acting in New York. Later Naian was the winner of the Best Actress Award at the 2018 Morelia International Film Festival (FICM), Mexico, for the film LEONA.
Naian has recently participated in the film NUEVO ORDEN (New Order) together with Diego Bonetta and Dario Yazbeck Bernal under the direction of Michel Franco. Currently, she has just finished the sequel to the film Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas en México.
Naian is among the new wave of young modern actresses in the film industry who move easily between national and international projects. She is a Mexican actress no one interested in the performing arts should miss.
THE LEGACY OF A DYNASTY OF ACTRESSES
Sometimes several actresses arise from the same family, such as the case of the English actresses Vanessa Redgrave (1937), her daughter Natasha Richardson (1963-2009) and her grand daughter Joely Richardson (1965); as well as the actresses Debbie Reynolds, her daughter Carrie Fisher (1932-2006) and her grand daughter Billie Lourd (1992), to mention a few examples.
In México this similarly occurs with the family of Naian González Norvind who descends from a family of Mexican-Norwegian-Russian actresses, a family dedicated to acting and music.
Her maternal grandmother, Norwegian-Russian Eva Norvind (daughter of Russian prince Paul Vernstad née Chegodayef Sakonsky and Finnish sculptor Johanna Kajanus) was a well-known actress, producer and writer who came to Mexico in the early 1960.
She later became a feminist icon, sex therapist, and was outrageously threatened with expulsion from the country for discussing contraceptive methods on national TV. She lived in New York and Mexico, passing away in Oaxaca in 2006 while producing a documentary.
Her daughter Nailea Norvind (1970) (Naian’s mother) was born and raised in Mexico; she studied acting at Carnegie Hall and is a well known Mexican actress in theatre, television and film.
In 1988 Nailea was appointed Cultural Ambassador for Mexican television in China. Nailea finished the documentary that her mother Eva could not complete, NACIDO SIN (Born Without) which received the award for Best Documentary at FICCO (International Contemporary Film Festival) and the Vancouver Film Festival.
Naian’s sister, Tessa la, is a Mexican actress and singer who has attracted much attention in films and recent Netflix television series such as NARCOS MEXICO and UNSTOPPABLE.
Her half-sister Camila Sodi (on her father’s side, Fernando González Parra is well known for his journalism, Ovaciones) is an actress with a long career in film and television in México and as is obvious, Naian has acting in her blood and a genuine love for performing.
Regarding her family, Naian grew up «…in the antithesis of families that don’t let you enter careers in the artistic professions, but on the contrary grew up with the expectation of creation and personal expression…» as Naian says in her article she wrote for Vogue de Mexico.
With a rich cultural hybrid of her Mexican-Norwegian family, Naian can perform, act, speak several languages, recite poems, and write screenplays in a wide range of genres, ages, and cultures. She is also aiming at achievement as a photographer and audiovisual director, a result of careful preparation.
Naian studied at LAMDA London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art – in London in 2014 and at Sorbonne Novelle Paris III – with a degree in Modern Literature and Film. Naian has been pursuing her career in both Mexico and the United States.
INTERVIEW IN AUSTIN @SXSW
When I met Naian a little over a year ago at the SXSW Festival in Austin, on the occasion of the debut of the American feature film SOUTH MOUNTAIN, I felt that she was both a young actress but a young actress with an air of a classic actress fit for playing characters in the films from the 1930s and 40s. She’s a young actress with a temperament and maturity that doesn’t represent her chronological age.
It is no surprise then that her name, NAIAN, has its origin in Greek mythology, a name her father chose, derived from the name of the Naiads, or Naiades, They were said to be the ancient spirits that inhabited the waters; they were the type of nymphs that lived in fountains, wells, streams or brooks.
A Minimalist Elegance
I went to meet Naian at her hotel, the JW Marriott in downtown Austin, and sat down in the lobby for a conversation. She welcomed me with a warm smile so bright that it seemed to illuminate the space around us. The first thing that caught my attention was her tranquility and her natural beauty, and the cool Nordic air about her.
Naian was dressed in beautiful navy blue, sleeveless one piece outfit, leaving her slim figure and white complexion in relief, with elegant high-heels in deep orange. With that detail she creates a certain look without having to wear other accessories. A minimalist elegance. Her voice was serene when responding to my questions but with an underlying emotion and enthusiasm in her voice.
The conversation was easy and relaxed, about her career, her family and her passion for poetry. The conversation we began in Austin in March 2019 ended in the midst of the pandemic in July 2020 via zoom, in Mexico City.
Hi Naian, we finally meet again, after a year!
Hi Lilia, nice to be with La Revista Mujer again, and yes, after a year, and what a year, right?
Thank you for being with us Naian. I am curious about your family’s story, tell me how did they arrive in Mexico?
Well, I’m Mexican of Norwegian/Russian descent. My dad is Mexican, and my mom is of Norwegian descent. My maternal grandmother Eva Norvind (daughter of a Russian prince and a Finnish sculptor) came to Mexico in a fit of rage, alone in the 1960s, and fell in love with Mexico. Well, at that time it was not so common to be a woman there alone, so that’s where the sense of independence of the women in my family comes from. My grandmother was also an actress, then my mother was born in Mexico.
How did growing up with independent women in your family influence you?
Well, I think that very directly, for example, my mom instilled in me, since I was a teenager, the necessity to be independent. To subsist as yourself, to look for opportunities in life. She never scolded me for things at school, she wasn’t one to say «that’s wrong», but instead «you decide» and so I started working very young, although not as young as my mother and sister. My first film was LLUVIA DE LUNA.
Although you grew up in an artistic environment, you told me that at first you didn’t want to be an actress, what made you change your mind?
Well, I like both, being an actress and a writer. Acting is such a difficult profession that I didn’t really want to give or “surrender” myself to that career. However, when I moved to New York I learned the sacrifice that being an actress requires and I had to make a decision to say YES and give it my all or no. I finally said, YES!
Obviously with the encouragement of my agents who represent me and my family I was driven to pursue that. It’s a career that I’ve managed to make alongside writing scripts (like LEONA with Isaac Cherem) and now productions. I feel that acting is not divorced from my other activities because I think it all goes together, it’s all part of the same thing
SOUTH MOUNTAIN @ SXSW
I was fortunate to see SOUTH MOUNTAIN, during its SXSW debut and I was able to appreciate your wonderful performance, and the film was chosen by SXSW Film Festival as one of the films directed by women (Hilary Brougher). Can you tell our readers what your character’s name is and what this film is about?
I am so glad you went to see it! Yes, my character DARA is a teenage girl who lives in a rural paradise in the Catskill Mountains of New York City with her family. Her mom Lila (Talia Balsam) is an artist, a college teacher and her father Edgar (Scott Cohen) and a sister, Sam (Macaulee Cassaday).
Then her father reveals that he is having relations with another woman and this complicates their life. The family drama takes on textures of growth, regression and transformation in an intimate tone. Among other things, it’s a film that talks about heartbreak, sadness, but without being sad.
According to a study published by USC Annenberg Inclusion Alternative, 10.6% of the directors of the main films in 2019 were women – the highest percentage in over a decade, Nain, how was your experience filming SM directed by a female director, and how can we see it?
It was a memorable experience working with this cast and with director Hilary Brougher, who also wrote the script for the film. I loved being part of this project, which was very emotional and very different from others I had done before. I felt that we all connected very well. This is one of the films I am most proud of.
Perhaps no one knew, but you were the only Mexican actress in the cast.
Yeah, and the funny thing is I’ve never played a Latina or Hispanic woman in any movie. In fact, if I don’t tell them, the fact that I’m Mexican might go totally unnoticed. The only thing I think that could give me away is my personal relationship with my colleagues, I think being Mexican makes me warmer, we celebrate more, we are more noisy when we go to receive a friend at the airport, for example.
Naian, you’ve made the crossover to an American audience with several successful films, and in theater and television. The audience here is ready to celebrate foreign talent in their own country. What does it mean for you to be Mexican in the film industry in the United States?
I think right now being Mexican is super strong, there is a lot of art and there are a lot of ideas. I think it’s a good time to be an actress in the United States. I think that right now the industry in the United States has a thirst for diversity because of the political environment, so it has been given the task of hiring people of all kinds of ethnicities, although I think that sometimes they sin by making it too evident.
Would you like to play Mexican women in films in the United States?
Well, I’m in a bit of a curious position, because even though I’m Mexican, the truth is that I’m not usually hired to play Mexican women, because I think there’s a physical type in people’s mind in general of what a Mexican is and in the industry above all. So, when they see me, I don’t fit into their image of how a Mexican should look.
They would have to be more open-minded to say, yes, of course there are Mexican women like her, because she is after all, Mexican.
And yes, I would love to play Mexican women in the United States but for now I dress up and audition to play English women, American women, but I like that because I also enjoy the challenge of getting into a different culture.
PROJECTS IN MEXICO
Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas 2
Now you are currently in Mexico, tell me about one of your most recent projects such as the film Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas 2. What is your character’s name and what was your experience like in this sequel?
My character’s name is Matilde. I’m the daughter of one of the women in the original cast from twenty years ago, and so Matilde comes with all the problems of her generation, of renewing relationships and this sequel tends to modernize everything from the first film.
This experience was much more fun than I could have imagined. The genre of the film is more of a comedy, and it was something I hadn’t done before, and I loved it.
In the highly anticipated film NUEVO ORDEN (New Order), directed by Michel Franco, where you worked alongside Diego Boneta (Luis Miguel, the series) and Darío Yazbek Bernal (La Casa de las Flores), this film addressed the very sharp gap between the rich and poor in the country. What are your thoughts about this issue?
Yes, the film is more about a confrontation between social classes in México, a dystopia. I think the film is going to be a kind of warning to society about what can happen if we don’t try to close the social chasm that exists in México. The gap between the richest and the poorest is very high and very acute.
Naian, you’ve done everything: film, television, theatre, what medium do you like to work in most?
I like all of them, but well, I love classical theatre, I studied in London, Shakespeare and I like it a lot. In television it’s smaller roles, and I love cinema, because it’s an art, really.
What has affected you most as a result of the pandemic and how have you handled it?
Well, in my career it has affected me directly, because four film and theater projects are totally suspended. For example in California, a black comedy based on the witches of Salem and another in New York. But I’m doing fine, I do a lot of yoga, I read and I’m busy with another personal project, like my poetry bar on Instagram.
Poetry Bar is one of your projects in your Instagram account where you recite poems and in various languages and often have guests. Let’s talk a little about it.
Yes, it’s called Poetry Bar Live, and it comes up once a week on my Instagram account. Sometimes I have guests, including my own father who is passionate about poetry, and it’s a «bar» because I always accompany the reading with a good glass of wine and we talk a little about the drink too. I try to read the poem in the original language if it is in English, French as well as Spanish of course.
I love many, there are wonderful Oaxacan poets and one of my favorites in Mexico are for example Natalia Toledo Paz,; I also love the poetry in English of the Australian Les Murray, who just passed away. In French, I really like the poems of Jacques Prévert, which is really poetry read by children in schools, but I love his poetry. Other languages? Well I speak a little Italian and Norwegian, but I don’t have enough mastery of them enough to read poems in those languages.
Naian, you always have very cool outfits, I can tell that you create your own fashion. How would you define your style of dressing?
My sisters were just teasing me about my style (laughter), but more than just the style. I think about the quality of the clothes. My style then would be the one I choose because the quality of both the fabric and the execution of the piece are excellent, although sometimes that makes the price of the clothes I like a little more expensive.
MEXICO CITY/ CDMX
Naian, what favorite places do you recommend to our readers to have a coffee or a drink in CDMX?
There are so many!, but if you come to Mexico I could recommend for you to have coffee at one of my favorites: CAFÉ AVELLANEDA, in Higuera 40-A, La Concepción, Coyoacán, CDMX, Mexico. This café is super close to the Frida Kahlo museum and they serve excellent coffee.
For a good martini, one of my favorites is LA TERRAZA DEL CONDESA DF – (Rooftop of Condesa DF) where you can find some of the best martinis in Mexico, they even have a delicious Horchata Martini, plus it has a beautiful view which is «WOW»!
You have a great appreciation for art, especially paintings. If you were asked to be the muse of a famous painter, what time in history or which painter would you choose for your painting?
I love this question! And I love a painter of the 19th or 20th century, named John Singer Sargent, American but who was born in Florence and lived in England and all over the world. I like him a lot because among other things he is recognized for his beautiful portraits of women. (Photo: Nancy Viscountess Astor portrait painting by John Singer Sargent)
And finally, what did you like best about your visit to SXSW in Austin?
I really liked the city, especially while spending time with the SOUTH MOUNTAIN’s team. I feel that it’s a city rich in ecology, and well, its people, obviously I was seeing everything within the prism of the SXSW festival, and I liked it more than I liked the rest of Texas.
The interview ended as she was getting ready to start the Poetry Bar Live precisely after our conversation. Yes, a conversation that finally concluded and La Revista Mujer is happy to present to you.
We at the magazine admire Naian Gonzalez Norvind, our beautiful Spring/Summer cover, for her attitude as a modern actress that won’t be pigeonholed in commercial films and because she’s not interested in fame, although success, yes, as a recognition of her talent and effort.
Her recent success is a hallmark of the talent that Naian possesses. She is a Mexican actress of whom you should not lose sight. She is building upon her legacy from a dynasty of actresses, and is doing it well.
You can follow Naian here:
Instagram at @naianaianaian